the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Poetry Day Poem 1

with 3 comments

Lyric for Annie – Christopher Logue

I picked up a couple of new books in town recently. One of which contained this poem by Christopher Logue – in my opinion the best UK poet post-war. The poem is from a five shillings souvenir programme of the unimaginatively titled 1963 “Festival of Poetry”.


Be not too hard for life is short
And nothing is given to man;
Be not too hard when he is sold and bought
For he must manage as best he can;
Be not too hard when he gladly dies
Defending things he does not own;
Be not too hard when he tells lies,
And if his heart is sometimes like a stone
Be not too hard – for he soon dies,
Often no wiser than he began;
Be not too hard, for life is short
And nothing is given to man.

For when man loves and opens his arms wide,
Like that Jew upon the cross,
Love steals his heart’s sweet breath;
And if he hugs his love against his side,
It crushes him to death.
Either way he bears the loss…

And must continue as best he can.
Be not too hard for soon he dies
Often no wiser than he began;
Be not too hard, for life is short,
And nothing is given to man.


It is indeed a lyric and must be read out loud, aware that the rhythm is that of a song and does not follow what you might expect to be a regular rhythm of written poetry. Read properly you realise how finely constructed it is, reminiscent of one of Joyce’s (rather than Wu Tang’s) Chamber Music poems perhaps. Logue was a real pioneer of performance poetry in the jazz era when the T.L.S wrote things like this: “Poets like Mr Logue and Mr [Michael] Horovitz and others have done something most valuable in luring jazz-conscious audiences to listen to genuine poetry and find that they can get the same kind of fun, and even the same kind of kick out of it, as they get from music. The next decade could see a real break-through here.” (1961, quoted in Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Great Britain, ed. M. Horovitz, 1970, p324). Now the same kind of talk is developing around poetry and hiphop-conscious audiences. Logue, however, is a one-off – or perhaps one that transcends his time and will survive when the others of his generation are gone.

This piece has a beautiful sadness about it. The sadness of love for flawed humanity, rather than depression or melancholia: it is indeed the pain of Christ’s unrequited love in that story – the one that Logue uses in his image in stanza 2, quietly refusing Jesus his divinity but leaving him as “that Jew upon the cross”: the view of the Roman soldier following orders on another unremarkable day executing theives and wannabe revolutionaries.

Sadness, untwisted by self-pity, self-loathing or anything else self obsessed, is beautiful and it is captured here as such: containing love’s forgiveness, humility and realism.

Written by angrysampoetry

October 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm

3 Responses

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  1. You don’t mention it, but this was set to music and recorded by Joan Baez. Thanks for reproducing it. Steve Turner, London.


    November 2, 2014 at 9:52 am

    • set to music by donovan

      john tubridy

      April 19, 2015 at 11:14 am

      • Hadn’t realised that. It all fits together now. A good combination of talents.


        April 20, 2015 at 3:48 pm

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